A Wonder ful Lif e
E ducational S tudy G uide
T H E A T R E U N D E R T H E S T A R S
8 0 0 B A G B Y , S U I T E 2 0 0
H O U S T O N , T E X A S 7 7 0 0 2
SECTION ONE: Introduction
T a ble o ff C o ntents
Ta ble o Co ntents
Page 1: Brief History of TUTS
Page 1: Purpose of Study Guides
SECTION TWO: Musical Theatre 101
Page 2: What is Musical Theatre?
Page 2: History of Musical Theatre
Page 3: History of Musical Theatre (cont.)
Page 3: How to Make a Musical
Page 4: Jobs on a Production Team
Page 5: Jobs on a Production Team
Page 5: Stage Diagram
Page 5: Why is Musical Theatre Important?
Page 6: Glossary of Terms
Page 7: Theatre Etiquette
Page 8: How About Trivia
Page 9: Review Questions
Page 10: Review Activities
SECTION THREE: About the Show
Page 11: Show Background
The Creative Team
Page 12: Character & Song List
SECTION FOUR: Elementary School Curriculum A Wonderful Life
Educational Study Guide
Page 13: Show Synopsis
Page 14: Digging A Little Deeper
Literary Terminology Theatre Under The Stars
What’s Going On? Houston, Texas
The Search- For Answers!
Page 15: Get Creative!
a. My Story
b. Compare/ Contrast
The Story Comes to Life- Good Journal Entries Shay Thornton
a. Daily Drama
b. You’re a Critic
c. Following Tradition
Page 16: Word Search Hand-out
Page 17: Word Search Answer Key
Page 18: Crossword Puzzle Hand-out
SECTION FIVE: Middle & High School Curriculum
Page 19: Crossword Puzzle Answer Key
Page 20: Digging A Little Deeper
Discovering the Plot
Page 21: Discovering the Historical Context
Discovering the Theme
Discovering the Symbolism
Page 22: Get Creative!
a. Extra, Extra! c. You Are The Playwright
b. Movie Time d. Clarence
Page 23: Mini Quiz Hand-out
SECTION SIX: Supplemental Material
Page 24: Mini Quiz Answer Key
Page 25: More Material
a. Memory Books
b. A Wonderful Life Websites
x -- Table of Contents -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
1I n t r o d u c t i o n
History of Theatre Under The Stars
Founded in 1968, Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS, http://www.tuts.com) is currently under the direction of President and
CEO John C. Breckenridge. TUTS was the first theatrical organization in Houston to perform free to the public in 1968 at Miller
Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park, and is the only Houston arts organization that has performed there free to the public every year
since the building opened. Since its founding by Frank M. Young, TUTS has produced more than 275 musicals including many local,
national and world premieres and is currently represented on Broadway with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. TUTS is also noted for
mounting many International tours, including Debbie Reynolds in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Juliet Prowse in Mame, Robert
Goulet in Man of La Mancha, and the Tony Award-winning revival of Carousel.
As a way to continue the tradition of musical theatre, TUTS’ Humphreys School of Musical provides instruction and stage
experience for more than 1,700 students annually. Since 1972, Theatre Under The Stars’ Humphreys School of Musical Theatre has
provided a superb and thrilling forum for musical theatre training for children and adults. Housed at the Hobby Center for the
Performing Arts, The Academy and The Studio at TUTS allow students to flourish in a year-round schedule of classes. Conducted by
an outstanding professional faculty and renowned resident artists who inspire and train students in every aspect of musical the-
atre, TUTS’ Humphreys School of Musical Theatre offers everything from vocal technique and choreography to costume design and
prop construction. Specifically designed for the career-track student, The Academy offers Intermediate and Advanced Studies in
Tap, Ballet/Jazz, Voice and Theory, Acting, Musical Theatre Workshop, and Directing. The Academy at TUTS gives students numer-
ous opportunities to put their training to work in performance, with a final showcase at the end of each semester. Open to babies,
teens, and the young at heart, The Studio offers a variety of classes for those on a non-audition basis. The Studio at TUTS is an
exciting program for learning and fun that includes early morning and evening classes, Saturday workshops and summer and winter
camps.TUTS also annually presents the Tommy Tune Awards, honoring the best and brightest in Houston’s high school musical the-
Purpose of Study Guides
TUTS has designed online study guides such as this one to enhance students' theatrical experiences. Using the guide,
teachers can encourage their students to explore both the story and the production elements of the show. Live theater can enrich
young peoples’ lives like few other experiences. The study guides contain various discussion questions, projects, and activities that
allow students to engage in literary analysis, historical research, and personal reflection. TUTS' hope is that these young people
will be able to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for musical theatre.
“ No child is fully educated or adequately prepared to live
in an increasingly technological world without understanding
the meaning and beauty transmitted by the arts.”
J.P. Getty Trust
Beyond Creating a Place for Art in America’s School, 1985
1 -- Introduction -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
2Musical Theatre 101
What is Musical Theatre?
Musical theatre establishes itself as the only genre of theatre that fully encompasses acting, singing, and dancing all fur-
thering the development of the plot. This differs from traditional theatre because the plot is enhanced by the addition of singing
and dancing not just supplemented like it is in 'straight' plays. To better understand musical theatre as a whole, and audience
member must comprehend the importance of these three elements. A cast member in musical theatre is talented at acting,
singing, and dancing thus called a triple threat because of their mastery of those three areas. Watching musical theatre, one must
be careful to appreciate everything occurring on stage so they can understand what the director tried to achieve with the show.
What is Musical Theatre?
Musical theatre's history stretches far beyond the limits one might assume. In fact, evidence suggests elements of this art
form were used over 2500 years ago! During the 5th century B.C.E. most plays in Greece were set up with one to three actors and
a chorus that responded to what the characters did. Both the actors and the chorus sang lyrics throughout the play. The actors
incorporated not only the dialogue and song, but dance in their parts as well. Grecian theatre can be divided into three main gen-
res that all employ music and dance. Tragedy required a slow and graceful dance called the emmeleia, comedy used a more fast
paced danced known as the kordax, and satyr plays (used for poking fun at a belief of the time) used a dance called the sikinnis
that mocked tragedy's dance. Although, this all probably seems far-fetched for most, Grecian humor transcends time and elements
of it are used still today! For example, did you think the crude body jokes and off-color humor used in sit-coms developed in
ancient Greece? If not, think again. Tons of the guttural humor we laugh at today has been used for thousands of years. Although
humor has remained the same over the years, most everything else concerning musical theatre has changed.
After the Greeks were taken over by the Romans during the Peloponnesian War, the popularity of theatre declined. The
Romans, known for their military genius and stoic nature, didn't care much for theatre. The Middle Ages were not a particularly
bright time for theatre, either. Performers often went from city to city performing for
whomever, wherever. However, they were not always well received. A good example of
this is the misconception at one time that these performers brought the plague with
them, and no one would allow them admittance into the city gates. Musical theatre still
managed to advance in this time period through the church. Although the history
between the Roman Catholic Church and theatre is touchy at best, the Church used the-
atre to transmit it's messages to the illiterate masses. Most people did not know Latin,
the official language of the Church, so clever monks started adding music and art to
spread their faith. This went even further when cycle plays developed. A cycle play is a
biblical story that has been chopped up and divided between different groups. Each
group had a pageant wagon (a stage on wheels) and they would move about the city
depicting biblical stories. Once one group was done the next part of the story would
start. This caused religion not only to be widespread, but also entertaining. The cycle
plays helped increase the popularity of theatre, which would soon skyrocket.
The Renaissance, which in French literally means "rebirth", reawakened the
public to the arts. Throughout Europe technological, literary, and stylistic advances
were occurring to appease the audience of the day. One of the most famous playwrights
of all time, Moliere, shows this. King Louis XV demanded a further reaching entertain-
ment, and called on Moliere to reformat his plays to do this. Moliere added music and
dance to his shows making his farcical style, song, and dance appease the king's taste
during the 1600s. This style grew and by the 1700s there were two main divisions: the
ballad opera and comic opera. The ballad opera used popular songs of the day with new
lyrics, while the comic operas had original scores and a more romantic plot development. Both these styles flourished, and the
idea of incorporating music into plays grew and grew.
The birth of the musical as we know it did not occur until 1866 in New York City. A theatre manager and producer, William
Wheatley, was worried about his upcoming show, which he described as a boring melodrama. Looking for something to add excite-
ment (and sell tickets) Wheatley jumped when the Academy of Music burnt down in a fire leaving their performers jobless.
Wheatley and the collaborators at the Academy of Music joined together to mix the play Wheatley was producing and the ballet
dancers that were scheduled to perform at the Academy. Combining the two together in a performance called The Black Crook,
audiences were astounded at the integration of music, dance, and theatre making the popularity of this art form boom.
In the 1920's musical theatre faced its first big test. Film had just begun and started to gain popularity. What was theatre
going to do with this medium stealing their audience? They kept seats filled by retaliating with emphasizing theatre's stars, bigger
dance routines, and adding in popular songs to all increasing the spectacle of the performances. This also caused the
budget to increase so when the Great Depression hit in 1929 very few could afford the theatre.
2 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under the Stars
History of Musical Theatre? (cont.)
The theatre lived on, however, and in the 1940's the Golden Age of musical theatre began with Rodger and Hammerstein's
Oklahoma!. This is the first piece to really incorporate dance into the plot line of the musical- which happened almost by accident. The
Theatre Guild, a controlling producing agency, went bankrupt so Rodgers and Hammerstein received full artistic control. The pair took
many chances including hiring the modern dance choreography, Agnes DeMille. Since the characters were cowboys and farm girls, the
idea of them expressing their emotions solely through words seemed awkward. Choreographer, Agnes DeMill, used everyday motions to
express their ideas including butter churning- not traditional showgirl dancing. Opening night proved the musical a success and is now
thought of as the quintessential musical theatre piece.
Musicals still continued to evolve. After the success of Hair (1968), the 1970's continued to use rock influence music in their pro-
duction. One example Grease became so famous that it has turned into a classic movie. Also the 1970's started an increase in the appear-
ance of African American issues and themes. Both Dreamgirls and The Wiz are known for their reflecting of the changing social climate
where diversity became more and more accepted. The 1980's and 1990's brought along the rise of the "mega musicals". These incorpo-
rated larger casts, pop influenced scores, and an increase in the value upon special effects. Audiences were wowed with The Phantom of
the Opera's falling chandelier in 1986. The increase in spectacle had many implications, however. Now it has become impossible for a sin-
gle individuals to fund shows, so more and more corporations got involved. The increased cost also meant that ticket prices would be
raised. The price increase changed the status of theatre to a more upper class activity. Jonathon Larson's Rent tried to change this when
he added heavily stylized rock music and a young cast. The 21st century has brought on a combination of many revivals and new styles to
musical theatre. The revivals of shows provide almost a guarantee to producers that people will support the show, but new shows stretch
the limits of theatre. Avenue Q is a new production where adult themed material is performed with puppets. Overall, musical theatre has
had an interesting past, but the future seems just as unique.
How to make a Musical in 10 steps?
1) Pick the PERFECT musical! Some of the things to consider are: if audiences will like it, how much it costs, and if you can secure the
rights to do the show. Sometimes you can't secure the rights to a musical if the licensing company thinks too many people are perform-
ing it in an area or if it is on Broadway.
2) Plan a BUDGET! Understanding how much you can spend on salaries, sets, costumes, musicians- while still paying bills to rent the
theatre, pay the box office workers, and general upkeep is crucial to putting your musical up.
3) Secure the CREATIVE team! This goes beyond just the director (although they are important too), a musical needs a choreographer,
music director, conductor, set designer, prop master... (the list goes on and on)!
4) Have a PRODUCTION meeting with the creative team! During these meetings the overall concept of the show should be discussed.
This includes everything from the set design to the tiniest detail on a costume.
5) Actors AUDITION! This exciting process takes place in Houston, New York, and Los Angeles. After the initial auditions callbacks are
scheduled to let the director see people audition again. At callbacks, actors usually prepare a song or scene from the show.
6) CAST the show! During this step discussions with actor’s agents agree (or sometimes don't agree) on how much the performers will
7) Start REHEARSALS! Once everyone is situated in Houston,
rehearsals start for the performance. This is when actors learn their
blocking, songs, and dance. Rehearsals can sometimes last as
short as 2 weeks before a show opens.
8) PREPARE all costumes, props, sets, and lights. This takes
weeks of work on the production team's effort so that all the little
details are taken care of.
9) Have a TECH rehearsal! During this step it is important to have
patience because trying to get the lights, sound, and cues perfect is
a very hard job. This usually happens during one of the last
10) Go on for a fabulous OPENING night! Your nerves might be
high, however, all your work won’t be lost because the cast and
crew are so well prepared!
3 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
Jobs on a Production Team
A musical is much more than the two and a half hour show the audience sees. The production process often takes many months,
even years, to complete.
Librettist Composer/ Lyricist Producer
No musical would be possible A musical isn't complete without music so a Producers are a rather unknown
without the imagination or inspi- composer and lyricist will do this job. field of theatre occupations. In the
ration of its authors. Over one Composers and lyricists begin to write the past, a show would only have one
third of the musicals on songs that fit the overall tone of the musical, producer who had a tremendous
Broadway come from an existing but also carry the plot along so the audience impact on the creative direction of
book, play, article, or movie. can better understand the show. The com- the show. Many shows started
Other times, authors write musi- poser writes the music, while the lyricist because a single producer had an
cals from an original idea or writes words to go along. Sometimes the idea for a musical and wanted to
concept. The librettist is the same person will do both tasks. There have make it come to life. Now that
book writer- the person that also been a few people who have been suc- musicals have become big business,
writes the script for a musical. cessful as a composer, librettist, and lyricist. however, it is almost impossible for
Just to show the importance of This select group includes George M. a single producer to put up a show.
a strong script, most musicals Cohan, Noel Coward, Meredith Wilson, and Now Broadway shows have a dozen
with a strong score, but bad Jonathan Larson. or so producers making it hard for
libretto will fail, while shows them to exercise creative control.
with an average score and
strong script could succeed.
The director is the person who stages Choreographer
INVESTOR the show to make it come to life for the
audience. In the past directors were A choreographer designs dance
Investors traditionally would give a merely puppets doing what the producer sequences for the performers to fol-
few thousand dollars in return for envisioned, but since the 1950s they low the director's vision. The
tickets and possibly money back have taken basically full control. A direc- dances are intricate movements
from their investment if the show tor has to work with the cast on singing, that allow the performers to
was a hit. This is no longer the acting, and dancing to tell a cohesive express the meaning of each song.
case, however, because of the high story for the audience. The director will Through the choreography, the
price of producing a Broadway help each actor understand their motiva- audience should understand what
show. Now investors contribute hun- tion for the show, block the action, and the characters are feeling. The cho-
dreds of thousands of dollars with oversee how everything comes together. reographer used to be called the
little chance that any of that money The director is the "top dog" in most dance director, but changed when
coming back. What is the point shows that everyone answers to. They ballet choreographers started work-
then? Most investors enjoy being in are in control of the overall artistic vision ing on musicals. This person usual-
"show business" and they usually of the show. ly spends a large amount of time
get great seats to see shows! rehearsing all the dances with the
Director Dance Captain
A casting director has the
A dance captain has to be one of the most skilled dancers in the cast who can learn
hard of job of finding the perfect
quickly and help teach. In big productions on Broadway, national tours, or major
person to play each role of a
regional productions most choreographers are not going to be available to be on hand
production. They need to stay
for every performance in case a cast member forgets a step. This is where a dance
up to date on the ever-changing
captain helps. They make sure everyone stays sharp on their dances and are there to
talent and be ready to set up an
teach any forgotten moves.
audition for major and minor
roles at any moment. Casting
directors usually work as free
agents for a variety of produc-
ers, but in some cases top pro- The music director is in control of basically all the music in the show. They help the cast
ducers have their very own learn the music, and then they are given the task of pacing the music. The music director
casting directors. can sometimes conduct the orchestra as well, which comes in handy because they
know the music of the show do well. They usually hire the orchestra members
4 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
Designers How would a show look if you couldn’t
Whatever you see onstage prob- see it? Probably not very good! A light- The stage manager is usually the
ably did not come off a store ing designer’s job is the task of mak- unsung hero of a production. They
rack, so costuming is very impor- ing everything that needs to be shown are in control of making sure all the
tant! A costume designer has to visible to the audience, while also set- elements of a show come together
design how the costumes should ting the tone and mood with the lighting during each and every perform-
look so that they are historically design. A lighting designer also has to ance. They are in control of “calling
correct, and build them in a way be aware of the actors movements so the show” meaning they cue all the
that they can stand the rough they don’t step out of the light. technical actions of the show. The
day to day wears & washings SM is in full command of the back-
stage area, and once the show
The set designer plays an important opens they receive full control from
role in the audience being able to be the director. The stage manager’s
A sound director has the complex
taken to the place of the action dur- script or “bible” has every single
job of making everything heard! Since
ing the play. They are responsible to cue marked for the whole show, so
most of the characters onstage have a
design how the set should look, and that the action can continue
microphone on, the sound designer
what materials will be used to build onstage trouble-free. The stage
needs to watch how loud that each
it. Sometimes the set designer will manager usually has a team of
mic gets. This job used to not even be
double as the scenic painter, and assistants that can be anywhere
listed in the playbill, but with the rise
paint the set pieces as well! doing whatever is needed.
of technology, it is now a crucial part
Performer Point of View
Upstage Upstage Upstage
Right Center Left
Audience Point of View
Why is Musical Theatre Important?
Musical theatre is unlike any other medium of entertainment, which makes it important. Any live theatrical experience not only
involves the actors on stage, it also involves the audience in ways that film and television do not. There is no barrier between the per-
formers and the audience like in film or television. Each performance allows each of us to become our own editors because we can
choose to watch whatever part of the stage we want to. The wonders of movies and television are remarkable, but often provide an
isolated experience. Being part of the communal magic when performer and audience connect at the theater cannot be duplicated.
How the audience reacts to the show deeply affects the actors. Something seemingly trivial like whispering or unwrapping a piece of
candy can distract the actors and alter the mood and tone of their performance.
Musical theatre can help students grow academically, aesthetically and personally. Musical theatre writers, lyricists, and com-
posers have long looked to literature for their inspiration and subject material. As a result, students have the opportunity to engage in
literary analysis of both the story and its inspiration. Elementary students can begin to explore plot and characters, while junior high
and high school students can delve into theme, symbolism, and historical context.
Students will also have the opportunity to discover how music, dance, lighting, backdrops, etc. contribute to the show.
Musical theatre allows young people to explore the elements of production beyond television and film, and gain a greater appreciation
for the arts.
5 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide--- Theatre Under The Stars
Glossary of Terms
Author - the writer of a musical script also called the book Mezzanine - the middle section of seats in a theater between
Audition - to perform in order to get a role in the production; the orchestra and the gallery; separated into front mezzanine
usually includes singing, dancing, and reading scenes from the and rear mezzanine
show Music Director - one who teaches and rehearses the music with
Ballad - a slow, romantic song for actors to showcase vocal clar- the orchestra
ity Orchestra - the section of seats in a theater immediately
Blocking - the specific movements of actors on stage behind where the orchestra sits
Box - a separate compartment of seats usually elevated on the Principal Performers - the leading actors, those who portray
sides of the theater, for the accommodation of VIP's the major roles
Box Office - a booth inside the theater where tickets are sold Program - a listing of the order of events, names of the cast
“Calling the Show” - the process of calling out the lighting, and crew, and other relevant information for the production
sound, and scene-change cues during a performance usually Property (Props) Master - one who manages all items used on
done by the stage manager stage that cannot be classified as scenery, electrics or wardrobe
Casting - the process through which actors are chosen for roles Read-through - the cast reads through the script without move-
in the production ment or music
Casting Agent - one who chooses actors for roles in the produc- Rehearsal Pianist - one who plays the piano for early-stage
Child Wrangler - one who works with child performers Set Designer - one who creates the scenery for the stage
Choreographer - one who designs dance sequences Sikinnis -a dance for the Grecian satyr plays that mocked
Composer - one who writes music tragedy
Conductor - one who directs the orchestra Sitzprobe - the first rehearsal with both the performers and the
Dance Captain - one who teaches and rehearses dance orchestra, with no staging or dancing
sequences with the performers Sound Designer - one who plans and executes the layout of all
Director - one who supervises the creative aspects and guides sound playback and equipment for the show
the artistic vision of the production Sound Operator - one who handles the sound playback and mix-
Dress Rehearsal - rehearsal in which performers practice with ing equipment for the show; works with the sound designer
costumes and props Sound Board - a desk comprising a number of input channels
Dresser - one who assists performers with their costumes during where each sound source is provided with its own control chan-
dress rehearsals and shows nel through which sound signals are routed into two or more
Electrician - one who works with the lighting designer to adjust outputs; changes the quality of the sound
and operate lighting instruments Sound Effects Designer - one who creates or enhances sounds
Emmeleia - a dance for the Grecian tragedies that was slow that are not part of the music or dialogue
and graceful Standby / Understudy - one who studies a role and is prepared
Ensemble / Chorus - a group of singers, dancers, or actors who to substitute the principal performer when needed
perform musical numbers Stage Left - the left side of the stage, when facing the audi-
Flyman - one who pulls the curtain before and after perform- ence (performer's point of view)
ances and operates the flying system, if one is used Stage Manager - one who is responsible for the quality of the
Gallery - the section of seats in a theater farthest away from show's production, assists the director and oversees the show at
the stage; separated into front gallery and rear gallery each performance
Head Carpenter - one who builds the sets for the production Stage Right - the right side of the stage, when facing the audi-
Headshot - a photograph of an actor from the shoulders up and ence (performer's point of view)
lists his or her credits on the back Swings - one who is prepared to substitute for ensemble or cho-
House Left - the left side of the theater, when facing the stage rus members who are unable to perform
(audience's point of view) Tailor - one who alters garments to fit a person's specific meas-
House Manager - one who oversees all aspects of the audience; urements
responsible for ushers and audience safety Technical Rehearsal - rehearsal incorporating the technical ele-
House Right - the right side of the theater, when facing the ments of a show, such as the scene and property shifts, light-
stage (audience's point of view) ing, sound, and special effects
Kordax - a dance for Grecian comedies that was up beat Uptempo Song - a fast, upbeat song for actors to showcase
Lighting Designer - one who decides where the lighting instru- dancing and acting ability
ments should go, how they should be colored, and which ones Usher - one who guides audience members to their seats
should be on at any particular time to affect mood, visibility, Wanderprobe - rehearsal in which the performers practice
and to showcase costumes and sets singing and dancing on stage while the orchestra plays
Lyricist - one who writes the words to a song Wig Master / Mistress - one who obtains and customizes wigs
Makeup Artist - one who applies cosmetics to a performer's for performers to wear
face and body
Marquee - a signboard projecting over the theater's entrance
6 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
Use the following page about proper theatre etiquette during performances to copy and print out handouts for your students or
cut along the dotted lines to make reminder cards for students to keep with them throughout the show.
G oing t o t he G oing t o t he G oing t o t he
T heatre ! T heatre ! T heatre !
Some basic theatre etiquette Some basic theatre etiquette Some basic theatre etiquette
tips: tips: tips:
1. Do not talk, whisper, sing, or 1. Do not talk, whisper, sing, or 1. Do not talk, whisper, sing, or
hum during the performance. hum during the performance. hum during the performance.
Singing and swaying with the Singing and swaying with the Singing and swaying with the
music or leaning forward in music or leaning forward in music or leaning forward in
your seat blocks the view of your seat blocks the view of your seat blocks the view of
those sitting behind you. those sitting behind you. those sitting behind you.
2. Do not eat and drink during 2. Do not eat and drink during 2. Do not eat and drink during
the performance. It is distract- the performance. It is distract- the performance. It is distract-
ing to both the performers and ing to both the performers and ing to both the performers and
your neighbors. your neighbors. your neighbors.
3. Keep feet on the floor, not 3. Keep feet on the floor, not 3. Keep feet on the floor, not
on the seat or balcony in front on the seat or balcony in front on the seat or balcony in front
of you. of you. of you.
4. Clap after the songs to show 4. Clap after the songs to show 4. Clap after the songs to show
the performers that you are the performers that you are the performers that you are
enjoying the show. Also keep enjoying the show. Also keep enjoying the show. Also keep
in mind that performers appre- in mind that performers appre- in mind that performers appre-
ciate enthusiastic applause, ciate enthusiastic applause, ciate enthusiastic applause,
but not whistling or shouting. but not whistling or shouting. but not whistling or shouting.
5. Appropriate laughter, tears, 5. Appropriate laughter, tears, 5. Appropriate laughter, tears,
and applause are the best ways and applause are the best ways and applause are the best ways
to express your feelings about to express your feelings about to express your feelings about
the performance. the performance. the performance.
6. Stay until the end of the 6. Stay until the end of the 6. Stay until the end of the
show and clap during the cur- show and clap during the cur- show and clap during the cur-
tain call to say "thank you" to tain call to say "thank you" to tain call to say "thank you" to
the performers. the performers. the performers.
7. No electronic devices should 7. No electronic devices should 7. No electronic devices should
be brought into the theatre, be brought into the theatre, be brought into the theatre,
and please silence all cell and please silence all cell and please silence all cell
phones, pagers and watches. phones, pagers and watches. phones, pagers and watches.
7 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
How About Trivia?
Did you know it used
Do you know Roman actors
to be okay to talk
wore the first tap
They would attatch pieces of atres?
metal called scabillas, to the Before the intorduction of elec-
bottoms of their shows so audi- tric lighting, the goal of theatre
ences would be able to hear was to be seen, not necces-
the performers feet! sarily to see. Audience mem-
bers would talk through per-
formances and sometimes
even correct the actors is they
messed up! Now it would be
very rude to disrpt a perform-
Did you know ance by talking, so be warned!
actors used to
Not until Duke of “buy the audi-
Saxe- Menningen ence?
Georg wanted histori-
cal accuracy in plays Actors hired a
did theatre start provid- claque, a
ing costumes. Take a group of people
look back at paid to applaud an
Shakespearean plays actor, to gain fame.
where the actors wore Do you know
Although this isn’t in
doublets and tunics how old lip-
theatre anymore, it is
(clothing of the time) syncing is?
still rumored to exsist In ancient Rome, popu-
during shows set in
in opera. lar actors like Livius
Andronicus, would have
someone speak their
Did you know actors were
words while they did the
supposed to supply theor
movements if they were
own costumes for hun-
Do you know what the sick.
dreds of years?
proscenium arch (the
picture frame archway Do you know how
built around the stage) ancient actors got
is named after? into character?
A skene was a building Actors are known
Do you know how in Grecian theatre that for trying to experi-
old the traditions of provided the backdrop ence the character
spotlights in the- which the actors per- they are potraying.
formed in front of. Add The Greek actor
atre have been
the prefix “pro” meaning Polus, while play-
used for? Back in medieval times, before and the term liter- ing the part of
when electricity hadn’t ally means before the Electra, in
been invented, stage hands skene or in front of the Sophocles Electra,
would polish basins to reflect backdrop. carried an urn of
sunlight back in a beam on
his own dead son’s
lead actors. This helped
ashes to represent
focus the audience’s atten-
the late brother his
tion on what the director
wanted the focus to be.
8 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
The following questions are intended to help students learn the basics of musical theatre. These may be used for class discussion
or given as homework and written assignments.
Checking for Understanding
1. What is the definition of musical theatre? 7. How can you be your own editor in theatre?
2. Where is humor from ancient Greece still 8. What does a choreographer do?
9. Draw a diagram noting upstage, downstage,
3. How did the Roman Catholic Church help the- stage left, and stage right. Can you further
atre? divide it?
4. Who formulated the musical as we know it 10. What are four major theatre etiquette tips?
5. What was the problem facing musical theatre
in the 1920’s?
6. What was the first musical to incorporate
story telling in dance?
1. Do you think theatre from another time peri- 5. What do you hope to gain from experiencing
od would interest us today? Why or why not? musical theatre?
Give an example.
6. What theatre element seems the most
2. What about musical theatre seems the most important? Do you think your neighbor would
interesting? What about this is appealing? feel the same?
3. Spectacle is so important in musicals now. 7. How can audiences influence performers
Do you think it will stay that way forever? What since there is a new audience every night?
technology might have encouraged this?
8. If you were to teach a child how to behave
4. What step do you think is the most impor- at the theater, what would you tell them?
tant in making a musical? The most challenging?
The most fun?
9 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
The following activities and projects are intended to encourage students to further their understanding of musical theatre, and
may also be used for class assignments or take-home projects.
1st - 5th Grade
E V O L U T I O N E V E R Y O N E ’ S A S T A R !
OBJECTIVE: To learn the major shows throughout the history OBJECTIVE: To learn the elements of production in musical
of musical theatre theatre, stimulate imagination, develop teamwork skills, and
ACTIVITY: Have students create a timeline of the major build self-confidence
steps in musical theatre history. They can draw or find and ACTIVITY: As a class, choose a story to turn into a play.
cut-out pictures to represent each one. Test their knowlege Think of an easy one like a class book or fairy tale. Divide
by asking older children to write facts about each step. into a production team (driector, costume designer, choreog-
MATERIALS: Construction paper, crayons/markers/colored rapher) and actors. Follow the step by step musical guide
pencils and put on a show for parents.
MATERIALS: Homemade or real instruments, props (optional)
6th - 12th Grade
N S P I R A T I O N D E B A T E
OBJECTIVE: To learn how historical context has affected OBJECTIVE: To learn the differences between various
and inspired musical theatre, and develop research and media, develop public speaking and verbal expression
public speaking skills skills, and encourage self-expression
ACTIVITY: Have students choose a musical to research and ACTIVITY: Divide the class into three groups and have each
then create a presentation of how the show reflects the group choose a form of media (ex. television, newspapers,
times in which it was created, including historical figures or theatre). Then have the groups debate on which medium
and relevant social or political issues. Encourage students is the best. Make sure students support their claims with
to watch videos of the show, study song lyrics, and specific benefits and limitations of each medium. Have
research the time period in which the musical was written. opening remarks be done as a skit showing the same story
Suggested Shows: Oklahoma, West Side Story, Bye Bye done in each medium. Students should leave understanding
Birdie, Peter Pan, Annie, The Sound of Music, & Ragtime the differences in each storytelling medium.
10 -- Musical Theatre 101 -- A wondeful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
3A b o u t
Created from the genius minds of Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo, A Wonderful Life is a musical retelling of the classic
Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life. The show took over 20 years to piece together with hard work from the talented pair.
Harnick and Raposo worked together to build the book, but right when the story was completed controversy arose over the rights
to the material. This further delayed production of the show. Sadly, Raposo died of cancer so Harnick kept working on the produc-
tion. It was first performed at University of Michigan in 1986 followed by a staged reading at Paper Mill Playhouse in 1990. In 1991,
at Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage, the show made its first professional run. In 2005 A Wonderful Life had a one night concert ver-
sion perfomed in New York.
The film It’s a Wonderful Life, has become a tradition around the winter holidays. The idea for the film first started in
1938 through Phillip Van Doren Stern’s short story The Greatest Gift. No one picked up on his short story until 1944 when he pack-
aged it as a pamphlet and sent it to his friends as a Christmas card. One of these cards got into the hands of a Hollywood agent
who sold the story and its rights to RKO, a major film studio of the time. RKO originally thought this would be a good post-war
story, but when Frank Capra offered them $10,000 for the film they let him direct it. Once Capra started working on the screen-
play he knew American audiences would enjoy it.
The setting of Bedford Falls shows a perfect American city- a rallying point for troops during a time of war. The set took
2 months to build and covered over 4 acres of RKO’s lot! This film was very expensive costing over $3.7 million with only a $3 mil-
lion box office return. Interestingly enough, the FBI called it a “subversive” film stating Mr. Potter was a tool of communists.
Today, the film has become a popular American holiday tradition.
The Creative Team
Sheldon Harnick Joe Raposo
LY R I C S & B O O K MUSIC Frank Capra
Sheldon Harnick was born on Joe Raposo was born on Febuary 8, Film Director
April 30, 1924, in Chicago. From 1937, in Massachusetts. His parents
childhood Harnick was attracted to were Portugese immigrants. He The film, It’s a Wonderful Life, has become
music and started playing the violin attended Harvard University where an American classic along with it’s director
early in life. After a stint in the he wrote songs for their shows. Frank Capra. Capra was born in Italy on May
army, Sheldon graduated from After college, Raposo worked as a 18, 1897. He came to America at 6 years old
Northwestern University School of musical supervisor on You’re a Good in the steerage class. Capra did very well in
America and graduated college with an engi-
Music with a bachelors degree. Man, Charlie Brown. Raposo is most
neering degree. After college, Capra joined
Although he was a talented violinist, popular with his work on the chil-
the military. When he returned home he
Harnick went to New York City to dren’s TV show Sesame Street and started working in Hollywood as a “gag”
become a lyricist. His first show was the sitcom Three’s Company. writer for Hollywood directors and produc-
entitled “The Boston Beguine” which Raposo has received various Emmy ers. Capra rose through the ranks and even-
showcased his trademark humor. and Grammy nominations featuring tually became a director at Colombia
Harnick is best remembered for his his songs from The Great Muppet Studios. He directed many films there
huge hit Fiddler on the Roof. He has Caper in 1981. Some of his most including The Miracle Woman, The Lady For
been nominated for 8 Tony awards famous songs include “It’s Not Easy A Day, It Happened One Night, and Mr. Smith
and has won 2. Other than musical Being Green” sung by Kermit the Goes To Washington. He was the first person
theatre, Harnick wrote for TV and Frog and “Sing” which was featured to win all 5 major Oscars and then went on
film, even writing The Tale of Peter in Sesame Street. Sadly, Mr. Raposo to win even more. He later left Columbia
and directed elsewhere. Capra passed away
Rabbit. He has performed in passed away in New York in 1989.
Sondheim: A Musical Tribute.
11 -- About the Show --A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
A Brief Show Overview
Major Character List & descriptions
George Bailey- Character who is Harry- George’s brother who doesn’t
heartbroken about the state of his want to run the family business
Potter- Member of the board of direc-
Clarence- Angel who shows George tors who is very rich and mean
the importance of his life.
Children- George’s children
Joseph- Head angel
Ensemble- Townspeople of Bedford
Tom- George’s father who doesn’t Falls
want him to leave
Mary- George’s wife
This Year Europe Can You Find Me a House- Reprise
One of the Lucky Ones/Can When You Own Your Own Home
You Find Me a House First Class All the Way
In a State I Couldn’t Be with Anyone but You
A Wonderful Life Welcome a Hero
If I Had a Wish Christmas Gifts
One of the Lucky Ones- Precious Little
Reprise Unborn Sequence
Wings A Wonderful Life- Reprise
Good Night Welcome the Hero- Reprise
Not What I Expected Christmas Gifts- Reprise
Panic at the Loan Building
A Wonderful Life- Reprise
12 -- About the Show -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
Following closely to the story line of the classic
1946 Frank Capra movie, A Wonderful Life opens with
George's Prayer featuring Mr. George Bailey praying to
God while contemplating suicide. The popular Christmas
hit begins with Clarence, an angel in training, hearing
from Joseph, a head angel, that he will earn his wings if
he can stop George's suicide. Joseph tells Clarence the
six most important days in George's life to start him on
his difficult task.
The next scene takes place on June 3, 1928, as
George plans a trip to Europe before attending Cornell.
After George's plan unfolds in This Year Europe, his
father, Tom, wants him to come home and work for him- an offer that George flatly refuses. Tom tries to remind
George through One of the Lucky Ones/Can You Find Me a House how blessed they are before George runs out to a
dance. At the dance (In a State), George instantly becomes enamored with Mary Hatch (A Wonderful Life). After
sharing If I Had a Wish, Mary along with George's trip to Europe gets set aside due to a family member's untimely
George and Clarence leave this scene and travel through time to a meeting concerning the disbanding of his
late elder brother's company. As the board members try to break up the company, George fights back (Can You Find
Me a House- Reprise), under Potter and the other board members conditions the company can stay open. As the new
executive director of the company, George can no longer go to college.
Clarence and Joseph sing Wings, right before George relives his next surprise. Harry, his little brother, finish-
es college, which George paid for, and now Harry refuses to join the family company (Ruth/ On To Pittsburgh).
George, distraught at the idea of not being replaced, accidentally meets Mary again. After a Good Night, Mary and
George are ready to get married (Not What I Expected).
Before the couple can begin their honeymoon, a problem at the bank arises. The investors demand money
back (Panic at the Building and Loan). George takes the issue into his own hands and in a selfless act uses the
money for his honeymoon to solve the problem. Mary, awestruck by the goodness of her husband, holds a perfect hon-
eymoon in town for them (A Wonderful Life- Reprise and George's Prayer- Reprise).
George is now seen in a montage where he is at work during Can You Find Me a House-Reprise, and then
celebrating his thirteenth birthday. The scene then shifts to May 15th 1935, at a house warming party (A Home of
Your Own). At the party, Potter approaches George with a huge sum of money asks him to join his company and
become First Class All the Way. Refusing his offer, George walks dejectedly home to find Mary. She informs him of
her 'news' during I Couldn't Be With Anyone but You.
Clarence now takes George back to the present. The town welcomes Harry, who has been at war, back during
Welcome a Hero. Also seen is George's uncle carelessly losing an envelope containing 8,000 dollars. Outraged, George
returns home mistreating his children while they sing Christmas Gifts. He cares for his sick child (Precious Little)
until she falls asleep (George's Prayer- Reprise).
As a last resort, George returns to Potter asking to borrow money from him, an offer Potter happily rejects.
Depressed and perplexed by his current situation, George tries to end his life. Clarence magically appears showing
him how life would be different if he were not there (Unborn Sequence). Ashamed that he had not appreciated life
before, George (A Wonderful Life- Reprise) meets Harry (Welcome a Hero- Reprise), and learns the town has saved
him from his financial issues. At the Bailey home, the town appears for a celebration of both the Christmas spirit and
life (Christmas Gifts- Reprise).
13 -- About the Show -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
The questions and activities are encouraged for use with elementary level students to cover basic knowledge and understanding
about the story. The following questions are intended to help students learn about the plot and the characters. These may be used
to prompt class discussions or be given as a written assignment.
Digging A Little Deeper
Plot: refers to the arrangement of the events in a story Rising Action: refers to the period after the exposition
that each follow plausibly from one to the next to create and after a conflict has been introduce to a story's plot;
a logical order Climax: a point of a story's highest tension or drama
Exposition: devices by which critical elements of the Falling Action: a series of events in a story that follow
plot, often involving back-story, are not directly depicted, the climax which serve as a conclusion of the story
but instead are presented through dialogue (or lyrics) by Resolution: the end of a story in which all conflicts are
either characters or a narrator; information is often cru- resolved, creating normality for the characters or
cial for the audience to understand the story's action release of tension and anxiety for the audience
What's Going On?
1. Describe the major plot of A Wonderful Life in one 4. What did you learn in the exosition of the story?
or two sentences. (Hint: what did you find out during George’s Prayer)
2. Using the synopsis (pg. 13), identify each memory 5. Become familiar with the meaning of resoulution.
Clarence takes George to. Explain the importance of Identify and describe events in the story that can be
each event to the story in one sentence, and create a considered part of the resolution.
chronological timeline. Why is each one important?
3.This musical originated from a very popular movie.
Watch the movie and answer these questions about
the stage version. What are the similarities? What are
the differences? What do you think would need to
change to move the musical from on film to the
The Search For Answers!
1. What was your favorite flashback? Why 6. How do you feel about Potter? Was this the case
for the whole musical or did your feelings change?
2. Out of all the main characters, determine which
one you would say is most like yourself. Do you see 7. What do you think will happen to Clarence now?
yourself doing the same things as the character you
picked if presented with similar situations? Explain 8. Do you feel that George is a selfish person? Why or
why or why not. why not?
3. Why is George upset at Harry? What would you do 9. How do you think George’s children view him?
in the situation? 10. At the end of the musical, were you happy or
4. Do you think people know that George is so upset sad? Why? Do you think you could have been both?
at himself? If not, why not? If so, why so?
5. Do you like or dislike George’s character? Why?
14 -- Elementary School Curriculum --A Wonderful LIfe Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
M Y S T O R Y C O M P A R E / C O N T R A S T
OBJECTIVE: To develop creative writing skills, stimulate OBJECTIVE: To develop research skills, develop presentation
imagination, and encourage creative expression skills, and encourage and stimulate imagination
ACTIVITY: Each flashback in A Wonderful Life shows an ACTIVITY: A Wonderful Life has been adapted from a
important moment in George’s life. Each student should classic film that generations have all enjoyed. Watch
write out 5 of the most important days of their lives. They parts of the film together and determine what has been
should then further elaborate on each day about what hap- changed and what has stayed the same. After doing this,
pened, why it was important, and what they chose to do. assign each student to research the making of the film
After they have written the days out, each student should as homework with their parents. Come back together
illustrate the story they told and tie the pages together to and discuss your findings. Does this make it easier to
make it into a book. Use the templete on page 25 for the understand why things were changed in making the musi-
book pages. Once this is completed, it is a great momento cal? Does it make it more difficult?
for the students to have in the years to come.
P R E M I E R E !
OBJECTIVE: To develop artistic skills, and encourage creative expression
ACTIVITY: Have the class split into 6 different groups. In each group, assign a leader who will act as head playwright. Each
group has to re-envision a flashback from the musical. In these groups they should write out a script of exactly how they
would re-tell the story. Interesting angles to twist the story would be from another point of view, if George was happy with
his life, or if there was another important event that occured which wasn’t in the musical. Once the new re-telling of the
musical is written each group needs to perform their piece. The more elaborate they want to get the better- which can
include costumes, props, or dramatic lighting. The 6 groups should all perform as if it were a new premiere of the show.
This is also a good way to get the students to further understand what goes into putting on a musical.
The Story Comes To Life- Good Journal Entries
D A I L Y D R A M A Y O U ’ R E A C R I T I C
A major theme in this story is the ideal of forgiveness.At One thing that is important to recognize in musical theatre
the end of the musical the town supports George no matter is the incorporation of dance, music, and theatre into one
what. Each student should think of a time that they had production. Have each student pick a scene and write out
the choice to forgive someone or keep holding on to a how all three of these elements were incorporated. Things
grudge. Then write 2 seperate journal entries. One should to include are: did you like it, did it further the story, what
describe how the situation would have played out if they was the audience reaction, who was doing the primary
did not forgive the other person, while the second entry action, why was a chorus used, was there a chorus used.
should describe what would happen if they did forgive the After each student has finished their journal, have a class
other person. After the students have completed the discussion about how this classic Hollywood film incorporat-
entries, they should split in groups of 4 and act out one of ed song and dacne to become a musical. Decide as a class if
their entries. A good class discussion can follow tying back this was a good or a bad thing.
to the town in A Wonderful Life supporting George.
F O L L O W I N G T R A D I T I O N
To some families the classic film A Wonderful Life has become a holiday tradition to watch. Have each student pick out a
tradition that their family does on every holiday. Keep in mind it might be easier for some students to recognize a tradition
that their family does on other holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, or New Year’s Eve. Each student
should write a brief description of what the tradition is followed by a step by step guide on how to do it. Then they should
pair up and try to see if they understand how to do the other’s holiday tradition. If not, they should clear up the procedure
on the step-by-step guide. If time permits, once all of these are completed, allow each student to present their tradition
with their guides. If parents are available, it would also be interesting for them to either demonstrate their tradition or
explain how it got started.
15 -- Elementary School Curriculum -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
A Wonderful Life Word Search
Joe Raposo Sheldon Harnick Clarence George Bailey
Joseph Cornell Harry Mary
Potter Welcome a Hero Holiday Honeymoon
RKO Phillip Van Doren Stern Tradition If I Had a Wish
P O T T E R R W D F H U N C V D Z N L E C
Q E R R F G H U Y T R E D F V B R P Y U O
Z A W A Q G H U H J R Y A D I L O H R W R
S E F D L I J G T O V G H J T N G I R F N
W C V I G Y R B H E N E F G H J U L D R E
W G Y T D B H U I R X E C V B Y Q L A D L
E D F I X G U F K A D V H F G G Y I D V L
E R J O S E P H G P D F G M E X R P C Y G
D F H N C Y U J K O D V Y I O N H V X P R
G Y J L G Y K B J S X R H G R O G A D R I
K L O G U M L H T O D R Y J G T M N O E P
D R A G U N M I Y D R J O B E X T D V C J
Y U I F E H L V X F G Y U I B Z F O J I T
C L A R E N C E D F H I D J A R Y R T O K
D F T S H E L D O N H A R N I C K E F U J
D F H U W E R B Y J A R G H L J I N F S S
M M T S J O U I F G R J A G E G E S R L I
A S H X C T T Y H E R N R E Y T O T N I V
D R A G F R U M F G Y S F H K O U E R T W
W E L C O M E A H E R O A X V B N R Q T T
D F G H K L J Y U I O P W E M V H N G L N
A S R Q Y E F L C B U A J C K A Q K L E P
X H K S F I U T G W S R L P G O R O U T E
I L O I F I H A D A W I S H A S G Y D T U
A F H I B M J O S E I H Z C H I O G D S J
16- - Elementary Curriculum- - A Wonderful Life Study Guide- - Theatre Under The Stars
A Wonderful Life Word Search Answer Key
P O T T E R C
R P O
A H J Y A D I L O H R
D O I N
I E N L E
T R E L L
I A Y G I L
J O S E P H P M E P
N O O V P
S R O A R
O G N N E
E D C
B O I
C L A R E N C E A R O
S H E L D O N H A R N I C K E U
A L N S
R E S L
R Y T I
Y E T
W E L C O M E A H E R O R T
M N L
R A E
O I F I H A D A W I S H Y
17- - Elementary Curriculum- - A Wonderful Life Study Guide- - Theatre Under The Stars
A Wonderful Life Crossword
1. Director of movie 1. Clarence is an ______.
2. Name of short story based on 2. Frank Capra is the film ________.
3. Name of movie ____ _ ______ Life 3. Harnick also wrote The Tale of ____ Rabbit.
4. Clarence shows how diff. Life would be in this 4. First production staged at University of _____.
5. Setting of story (town) 5. Bailey children sang this
6. This Year _____________ 6. Clarence will earn these
7. Raposo worked for this kids TV show
8. George’s last name
9. Mary’s last name
3. 6. 7.
18- - Elementary Curriculum- - A Wonderful Life Study Guide- - Theatre Under The Stars
A Wonderful Life Crossword Answer Key
F R A N K C A P R A
G D E
T H E G R E A T E S T G I F T
L R E
E R M
C T C
H O H
R R I
I T S A W O N D E R F U L S G
S I E A
T N U N B O R N S E Q U E N C E
M G A
A S M
S H E
G B E D F O R D F A L L S
I A T T
F I C R
T L H E
S E E U R O P E
19- - Elementary Curriculum- - A Wonderful Life Study Guide- - Theatre Under The Stars
5Middle & High School Curriculum
The following questions are intended to encourage students to go beyond the surface of the play by engaging in literary analysis
and outside research. These may be used to prompt class discussions or be given as written assignments.
Digging A Little Deeper
Plot: refers to the arrangement of the events in a story Resolution: the end of a story in which all conflicts are
that each follow plausibly from one to the next to create resolved, creating normality for the characters or
a logical order release of tension and anxiety for the audience
Exposition: devices by which critical elements of the Subplot: refers to a series of connected actions within a
plot, often involving back-story, are not directly depict- story that functions separately from the main plot and
ed, but instead are presented through dialogue (or lyrics) may connect to it either in time and place or thematic
by either characters or a narrator; information is often significance. Often involves the supporting characters in
crucial for the audience to understand the story's action a story
Rising Action: refers to the period after the exposition Protagonist: the character that is the central figure of a
and after a conflict has been introduce to a story's plot; story and his or her attitudes and actions are made
Climax: a point of a story's highest tension or drama clearest to the audience. Also characterized by an abili-
Falling Action: a series of events in a story that follow ty to change or evolve
the climax which serve as a conclusion of the story Antagonist: the character, group of characters, or entity
that represents the opposition against which the protag-
onist or other characters must contend with
Discovering The Plot
1. Describe the main plot of the story in a brief paragraph. 4. What role does Clarence play in the story (antagonist/ pro-
Next, identify a subplot, and summarize it and its relation- tagonist/ comic relief)? Can he fit into one clear role? Why or
ship to the main plot. why not?
2. Using the synopsis (pg. 13), categorize the important 5. Who is the antagonist in the story? Is there more than one?
moments of the story into rising action, the climax, falling Can you find a specific person or is it a group? Describe how
action, and the resolution. Briefly explain why you chose an ideal the people have could fufill the role of the antago-
each moment in one or two sentences. nist as well?
3. Become familiar with the meaning of exposition. In A 6. This musical personifies the town at the end of the musical
Wonderful Life, what information was given that helped you in a way that could be quite unexpected. Why do you think
understand the action of the story? In what ways did the show they did this?
communicate this information? Was there any information you
inferred (assumed) from the exposition? Think about the first
Discovering The Historical Context
1. The Great Depression plays a major role in how George’s 3.Many elements of this story transcend the time period and
life turned out. Give a brief description about how his life are relevant today. Describe two of these with your predic-
would change after this occured. Why do you think the tion on why they are still relevant.
author chose this event?
4. What can be seen changing throughout the different years
2. One character that one would assume plays a major role shown on stage? Do you think this is an accurate description.
in George’s life, but isn’t really stressed in the musical is Why or why not?
Mary. Why do you feel she has such a small role? Name other
factors of the time period that would contribute to this.
20 -- Middle & High School Curriculum -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
Digging A Little Deeper (cont.)
Discovering The Theme
1. Identify and describe the major themes in A Wonderful 4.What do you feel the author was trying to illustrate when
Life. Do you feel the themes are easily discernable. If you he showed both the good and the bad moments of George’s
believe they are more difficult to find, how so? life? What is this a reminder of?
2. Explain the importance of the themes used in this musical 5. At the end of the musical, the plot concludes very quickly.
placed around the holiday season. Do you feel that A Why do you feel that the show lasted for a long time, but the
Wonderful Life is supposed to be a reminder of some kind? resolution was so fast?
3. How does George show both good and bad family relation-
ships throughout the show? Does this evolve? What theme
could this tie into?
Discovering The Symbolism
1. What was the character of Potter supposed to symbolize? 4. Does Clarence fit the standard imagery of angels? Why or
Think back to his job, character type, and relationship to why not? How do you feel this impacts the effectiveness of the
2. What is the town of Bedford Falls like? Why would it be 5. Since the film is such a classic movie, what do you think
shown this way? What ideal is this trying to uphold? this means about society? What societal values does it uphold?
3. In this musical, George is the only character that shows
extreme emotions and is placed in difficult situations. Why do
you feel this is? Who does the character George represent?
21 -- Middle & High School Curriculum -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
The following project ideas are intended to enhance students' musical theatre experience through the analysis and creation of art.
They may be assigned as in-class written assignments, take-home projects, or presentations.
E X T R A , E X T R A ! Y O U A R E T H E P L A Y W R I G H T
OBJECTIVE: To develop creative writing skills, further OBJECTIVE: To engage creative writing, work on presenta-
computer skills, and stimulate imagination. tion skills through acting, encourage teamwork, and develop
ACTIVITY: In A Wonderful Life, the audience is privy to
many of George’s most personal moments. Think back on ACTIVITY: Everyone has moments that are important in
all those moments and try to write a report as if you were their life. Think of 5 of these moments then choose your
a Bedford Falls reporter. Think of catchy titles and inside favorite one. You should then turn this life-changing
scoops to excite the audience into reading your article. moment into a script by writing dialogue, describing the
This report should be about 1/2 to 3/4s of a page long. characters, and including sets, costumes, lights, and sound
After you have the bare bones story, use your computer cues. Try to describe the event as best as you can on paper
skills to set up this article on a sheet of paper that looks because then everyone will get in groups of 4 and act the
like a newspaper. For advanced students, write mini arti- moments out. As a class, set aside time to work on these
cles to surround the feature like weather, local Bedford mini-productions for a week! Then, have an afternoon full
Falls’ football scores, and baking recipes. Display all the of theatre with everyone performing. Remind students to
different papers. use the theatre etiquette rules on page 7.
M O V I E T I M E C L A R E N C E
OBJECTIVE: To develop writing skills, stimulate research, OBJECTIVE: To develop computer skills, understand Power
and develop presentation skills Point, encourage creative writing, stimulate imagination,
develop higher level thinking, and increase cause and effect
ACTIVITY: As a class watch the classic Hollywood film It’s A logic skills.
Wonderful Life. Since you have now seen the stage ver-
sion, discuss the similarities and differences between the ACTIVITY: Clarence has a very hard job when he is assigned
two. An important question to keep in mind is why did they to help George. Imagine if you were in Clarence’s position,
change it. After this discussion, write in a 1-2 page persua- what would you do? Make a Power Point presentation to
sive paper why the creative teams of the 2 productions change George’s mind. Explain the consequences his deci-
changed what they did. Use knowledge of the era, movie sion would render. Also, have him remember the good
making, or the story itself to reinforce your argument. things, like Clarence did. Try to focus on the positive
Once the assignement is completed, have interested stu- instead of the negative. After you have completed this, look
dents argue their case in front of the class. it over and see what other information you might need to
include. Once that is done, discuss as a class or in groups.
What did you do the same, what did you do differently?
22 -- Middle & High School Curriculum -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
1. What was the short story inspired this musical? 7. Who is George’s younger brother?
a. The Shabbiest Town a. Clarence
b. Try Again Sam b. Harry
c. The Greatest Gift c. Joseph
d. Merry Christmas, Love Clarence d. Potter
e. Wings e. None of the above
2. How did RKO find this story from Phillip Van 8. Who does George meet at the dance?
Doren Stern? a. Clarence
a. He pitched the idea b. Potter
b. At a jazz cafe c. Michelle
c. An agent found this Christmas card d. He doesn’t attend
d. Well known anecdote e. Mary
e. Director knew Van Doren
9. Who does George try to borrow money from?
3. What imaginary town serves as the setting? a. No one- he is too proud
a. Bedford Falls b. His father
b. South Oaks c. Harry
c. New Gruther d. Potter
d. Boston e. Mary’s family
e. Brooks Briar
10. What will happen if Clarence saves George?
4. Who wrote the lyrics and score? a. He gets his wings
a. Joe Raposo b. He won’t be kicked out
b. Frank Capra c. Nothing
c. Phillip Van Doren Stern d. He will take Joseph’s job
d. Sheldon Harnick e. None of the above
e. John Snyder
5. Who was the first to produce this show?
a. Theatre Under The Stars
b. University of Michigan
c. Arena Stage (Washington D.C.)
d. A theatre on Broadway
e. A West End theatre
6. What song does the musical open with?
a. A Wonderful Life
b. Welcome A Hero
c. George’s Prayer
d. All of the above
e. None of the above
23 -- Middle & High School Curriculum -- A Wonderful Life Study Guide--- Theatre Under The Stars
Mini Quiz Answers
24-- Middle & High School Curriculm-- A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars
Section Six: Supplemental Materials
I was at ___________. Then I saw
____________. After that,
A Wonderful Life Websites General Websites
Internet Broadway Database Listing
http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=415073 Internet Broadway Database
Paper Mill Playhouse Study Guide
(scroll to 2006-07 Season) Playbill
It’s A Wonderful Life on Internet Movie Database Houston Theatre
Essay on Importance of Film www.musicals.net
25 -- Supplemental Materials --A Wonderful Life Study Guide-- Theatre Under The Stars